Captain Pugwash: A Pirate Story

By John Ryan (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84780-721 (PB)            978-1845078218 (HC)

The Day’s coming, Shipmates! Here’s a taste of things to come for all you hearty fun-starved rogues…

John Ryan was an artist and storyteller who straddled three distinct disciplines of graphic narrative, with equal qualitative if not financial success.

The son of a diplomat, Ryan was born in Edinburgh on March 4th 1921, served in Burma and India and – after attending the Regent Street Polytechnic (1946-48) – took up a post as assistant Art Master at Harrow School from 1948 to 1955.

It was during this time that he began contributing strips to Fulton Press publications, in the company’s glossy distaff alternative Girl, but most especially in the pages of the legendary “boys’ paper” The Eagle.

On April 14th 1950, Britain’s grey, post-war gloom was partially lifted with the first issue of a new comic that literally shone with light and colour. Avid children were soon understandably enraptured with the gloss and dazzle of Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, a charismatic star-turn venerated to this day.

The Eagle was a tabloid-sized paper with full-colour inserts alternating with text and a range of various other comic features. “Tabloid” is a big page and one can get a lot of material onto each one. Deep within, on the bottom third of a monochrome page was an 8-panel strip entitled Captain PugwashThe story of a Bad Buccaneer and the many Sticky Ends which nearly befell him.

Ryan’s quirky, spiky style also lent itself to the numerous spot illustrations required throughout the comic every week.

Pugwash, his harridan of a wife and the useless, lazy crew of the Black Pig ran (or more accurately capered and fell about) until issue 19 when the feature disappeared. This was no real hardship for Ryan who had been writing and illustrating Harris Tweed – Extra Special Agent as a full-page (tabloid, remember, an average of twenty panels a page, per week!) from Eagle #16. (I really must reinvestigate the solidly stolid sleuth too sometime soon…)

Tweed ran for three years as a page until 1953 when it dropped to a half-page strip and was repositioned as a purely comedic venture.

In 1956 the indefatigable old sea-dog (I mean old Horatio Pugwash but it could so easily be Ryan) made the jump to children’s picture books. He was an unceasing story-peddler with a big family, and somehow also found time to be the head cartoonist for The Catholic Herald for forty years.

A Pirate Story was first published by Bodley Head before switching to the children’s publishing specialist Puffin for further editions and more adventures. It was the first of a vast (sorry, got away with myself there!) run of children’s books on a number of different subjects.

Pugwash himself starred in 21 tomes; there were a dozen books based on the animated TV series Ark Stories, plus Sir Prancelot and a number of other creations. Ryan worked whenever he wanted to in the comics world and eventually the books and the strips began to cross-fertilise.

The primary Pugwash is very traditional in format with blocks of text and single illustrations to illuminate a particular moment. But by the publication of Pugwash the Smuggler (1982) entire sequences were lavishly painted comic strips, with as many as eight panels per page, and including word balloons. A fitting circularity to his careers and a nice treat for us old-fashioned comic drones.

After A Pirate Story was released in 1957 the BBC pounced on the property, commissioning Ryan to produce five-minute episodes (86 in all from 1957 to 1968, which were later reformatted in full colour and rebroadcast in 1976). In the budding 1950s arena of animated television cartoons, Ryan developed a new system for producing cheap, high quality animations to a tight deadline. He began with Pugwash, keeping the adventure milieu, but replaced the shrewish wife with a tried-and-true boy assistant. Tom the Cabin Boy is the only capable member of a crew which included such visual archetypes as Willy, Barnabas and Master Mate (fat, thin and tall – and all dim), instantly affirming to the rapt, young audience that grown-ups are fools and kids do, in fact, rule.

Ryan also drew a weekly Captain Pugwash strip in The Radio Times for eight years, before going on to produce a number of other animated series including Mary, Mungo and Midge, The Friendly Giant and the aforementioned Sir Prancelot. There were also adaptations of some of his many other children’s books. In 1997 an all new CGI-based Pugwash animated TV series began.

This first story sets the scene with a delightful clown’s romp as the so-very-motley crew of the Black Pig sail in search of buried treasure, only to fall into a cunning trap set by the truly nasty Cut-Throat Jake. Luckily Tom is as smart as his shipmates and Captain are not…

John Ryan returned to pirate life in the 1980s, drawing three new Pugwash storybooks: The Secret of the San Fiasco, The Battle of Bunkum Bay and The Quest for the Golden Handshake, as well as thematic prequel Admiral Fatso Fitzpugwash, in which it is revealed that the not-so-salty seadog had a medieval ancestor who became First Sea Lord, despite being terrified of water…

A 2008 edition of A Pirate Story (from Frances Lincoln Children’s Books) came with a free audio CD, and just in case I’ve tempted you beyond endurance here’s a full list (I think) of the good(?) Captain’s exploits that you should make it your remaining life’s work to unearth…:

Captain Pugwash: A Pirate Story (1957), Pugwash Aloft (1960), Pugwash and the Ghost Ship (1962), Pugwash in the Pacific (1963), Pugwash and the Sea Monster (1976), Captain Pugwash and the Ruby (1976), Captain Pugwash and the Treasure Chest (1976), Captain Pugwash and the New Ship (1976), Captain Pugwash and the Elephant (1976), The Captain Pugwash Cartoon Book (1977), Pugwash and the Buried Treasure (1980), Pugwash the Smuggler (1982), Captain Pugwash and the Fancy Dress Party (1982), Captain Pugwash and the Mutiny (1982), Pugwash and the Wreckers (1984), Pugwash and the Midnight Feast (1984), The Battle of Bunkum Bay (1985), The Quest of the Golden Handshake (1985), The Secret of the San Fiasco (1985), Captain Pugwash and the Pigwig (1991) and Captain Pugwash and the Huge Reward (1991). They are all pearls beyond price and a true treasure of graphic excellence…

We don’t have that many multi-discipline successes in comics, so why don’t you go and find out why we should celebrate one who did it all, did it first and did it well? Your kids will thank you and if you’ve any life left in your old and weary soul, you will too…
© 1957, 2009 John Ryan and (presumably) the Estate of John Ryan. All rights reserved.

Zig and Wikki in Something Ate My Homework

By Nadja Spiegelman & Trade Loeffler (Toon Books/Raw Junior)
ISBN: 978-1-935179-02-3 (HC)                    ISBN: 978-1-935179-38-2 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Take Me to Your Leader’s Bookshelf… 9/10

These days there’s a wealth of comics and cartoon books for the young to cut their milk-teeth on and amongst the most entertaining are those produced by Toon Books.…

This particular treat by writer Nadja Spiegelman & Trade Loeffler follows the escapades of a couple of alien kids cutting classes when they should be doing homework.

In space, however, teachers can still track you down wherever you are, and when an urgent call reminds Zig he has to complete his science project – bringing a pet in to class – he reluctantly lands on the blue-green planet he’s passing and goes hunting for an animal to adopt…

Thus begins a grand odyssey as Zig and his electronic know-it-all pal Wikki interview and pursue a range of earthly creatures for the role, only slightly hampered by the detail that they both are approximately the size of Earth mice. At least they have a shrinking ray with them…

Aimed at 5-and-over age-ranges, this splendidly child-sized (236 x162 mm) full-colour landscape format tome is a gloriously evocative, sleekly exciting kid-friendly caper, produced in hardback, paperback and e-book editions. Fast-paced, charming and packed with learning content as Wikki’s face-screen provides photos and gloriously gross fun facts about Flies, Dragonflies, Frogs and Raccoons, Zig’s quest to “bring ‘em back alive” is a sweet blend of science and fiction that will keep kids and parents enthralled.
© 2010 RAW Junior, LLC. All rights reserved.

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By Eleanor Davis (Toon Books/Raw Junior)
ISBN: 978-0-9799238-4-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Smells Like a True Favourite… 9/10

Once upon a time – and for the longest time imaginable – comics were denigrated as a creative and narrative ghetto cherished only by children and simpletons. For decades the producers, creators and lovers of the medium struggled to change that perception and gradually acceptance came.

These days most folk accept that word and pictures in sequential union can make stories and tell truths as valid, challenging and life-changing as any other full-blown art-form.

Sadly, along the way the commercial underpinnings of the industry fell away and they won’t be coming back…

Where once there were a host of successful, self-propagating comics scrupulously generating tales and delights intended to entertain, inform and educate such specific demographics as Toddler/Kindergarten, Young and Older Juvenile, General, Boys and Girls periodical publications, nowadays Britain, America and most of Europe can only afford to maintain a few paltry out-industry licensed tie-ins and spin-offs for younger readerships.

The greater proportion of strip magazines are necessarily manufactured for a highly specific – and dwindling – niche market, whilst the genres that fed and nurtured comics are more effectively and expansively disseminated via TV, movies and assorted games media.

Thankfully old-fashioned book publishers and the graphic novel industry have a different business model and far more sensible long-term goals, so the lack has been increasingly countered and the challenge to train and bring youngsters into the medium taken up outside the mainstream – and dying – periodical markets.

I’ve banged on for years about the industry’s foolish rejection of the beginner-reading markets, but what most publishers have been collectively offering young/early consumers – and their parents (excepting, most notably the magnificent efforts of David Fickling Books and their wonderful comic The Phoenix) – has seldom jibed with what those incredibly selective consumers are interested in or need.

In recent years however the book trade has moved with the times and where numerous publishing houses have opened comic medium divisions, one in particular has gone all-out to cultivate tomorrow’s graphic narrative nation.

Toon Books/Raw Junior was established by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly as an imprint of the groundbreaking and legendary alternative magazine to provide high-quality comics stories to entice pre-schoolers and starter-readers into a lifelong love affair with strips in particular and reading in general.

Their burgeoning stable of talented creators have produced a wealth of superbly superior comic tales in three accredited educational standards (Level 1: First Comic for brand new readers, Level 2: Easy-to-Read for Emerging Readers and Level 3: Chapter Books for Advanced Beginners) and the company even supplements their publications with an online tool. offers follow up such as interactive audio-versions read by the authors – and in a multitude of languages – and a “cartoon maker” facility which allows readers to become writers of their own adventures about the characters they have just met in the printed editions. Many books include a page of tips for parents and teachers on ‘How to Read Comics with Kids’

This particular yarn from Eleanor Davis sticks tight to traditional fare winningly rendered as she introduces a gloomy, anxious swamp monster whose smelly, dank world of pickled onions, possums, slugs, toads and especially stench seems likely to be upset forever after new neighbours move in…

There’s a town near the swamp and in it are kids. Kids who like baths and eat cake smell weird…

Stinky is especially nervous of a new kid. Somehow he’s even worse than the others. He’s called Nick, eats apples, likes toads and is building a tree house in Stinky’s swamp! Determined to drive off the newcomer, the moist monster undertakes a campaign of terror but the little human pest just accepts all the nasty surprises and keeps on building…

And thus begins an epic struggle which will result in a most unique friendship…

Gently hilarious, beautifully illustrated and heart-warmingly proving that it takes all sorts to make a world, Stinky is a fabulous walk on the wild side you’ll find impossible to forget – especially as your hosts have been kind enough to provide you with a detailed map to follow…
© 2008 RAW Junior, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Silly Lilly and the Four Seasons

By Agnès Rosenstiehl (Toon Books/Raw Junior)
ISBN: 978-0-9799238-1-4 (HB)                    978-1-935179-23-8 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sheer Delight from First to Last… 10/10

Kids love to read and will do so for their entire lives if you start them off with the right material. Thankfully, after too many years without, the bookshelves and digital stores are stuffed with just such graphic narrative treasures. This particular award-winning cartoon treat for the very young comes from the magnificently prolific and talented Agnès Rosenstiehl, who has been one of France’s greatest kids’ authors for decades.

Rosenstiehl was born in 1941 to an artistic Parisian family, and, after attending Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse à Paris and the Sorbonne, has been enchanting European nippers with her efforts since 1968. I lost count at 159 books. There are probably more…

Her most popular and ubiquitous character is an adventurous tyke named Mimi Cracra (48 tomes thus far) who in 2008 hopped the pond and landed as Silly Lilly in a supremely engaging selection of vignettes showing the tot learning about and exulting in the ever-changing planetary cycle…

Crafted as mini-tales for very young and emerging readers, the explorations begin in playful callisthenics in Spring and ‘Silly Lilly at the Park’; moves on to Summer and ‘Silly Lilly at the Beach’; shuffles on in sensible warm clothes to Fall and ‘Silly Lilly and the Apples’, romps in Winter as ‘Silly Lilly Plays in the Snow’ before inexorably coming around to Spring again with ‘Silly Lilly and the Swing’.

Toon Books/Raw Junior was established by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly as an imprint of the groundbreaking alternative comics magazine to provide high-quality comics stories which would entice pre-schoolers and starter-readers into a lifelong love affair with strips in particular and reading in general.

Released as a child-sized (236 x 152 mm) landscape package, this magically compelling full-colour 32-page picture treat is available in both hardback and softcover: the kind of comforting illustrated exploration that opens young eyes to all the world’s wonders and will be read over and to again.
© 2008 RAW Junior, LLC. All rights reserved.

Otto’s Orange Day

By Frank Cammuso & Jay Lynch (Toon Books/Raw Junior)
ISBN: 978-0-9799238-2-1 (HC)                    978-1-935179-27-6 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Colourful and Captivating… 10/10

If you give them a chance and the right material, kids love to read. Happily, these days there’s a grand renaissance of books for the next generation to cut their milk-teeth on, and thanks to the dedication of folk like David Fickling Books (and their wonderful comic The Phoenix) in Britain and Toon Books/Raw Junior in the USA, plenty of avenues for youngsters to grow up reading comics too…

This one comes courtesy of award-winning political cartoonist Frank Cammuso (also the creator of Max Hamm: Fairy Tale Detective) who joins here with legendary industry giant Jay Lynch (Mad, Bijou Funnies, Phoebe and the Pigeon People, Nard ‘n’ Pat, Wacky Packages, Garbage Pail Kids) to relate a boisterous and visually flamboyant  yarn of foolish enthusiasm…

Otto was a ginger cat and utterly obsessed. He always said – long and loud and often – that orange is ‘My Favorite Colour’. He proclaimed it in verse and through dance and even had a song about the best hue in the world. That’s why his Aunt Sally Lee sent him an old dusty lamp she found in a store. It was pretty dusty and banged up, but beneath the grime, it gleamed orange…

Otto gave the old a thorough dusting and was amazed to see a gigantic blue genie offering him one wish. Otto had no doubts what it should be…

Opening the door he found the entire world painted in shades of the greatest colour of all. He couldn’t wait for winter when he could make orange snowmen!

Sadly, he soon started seeing the downside and learned to ‘Be Careful What You Wish For!’ The roads were more dangerous, people were hard to recognise and even Otto couldn’t stomach orange lamb chops with orange mashed potatoes and orange spinach!

Knowing he had to turn things back, Otto tried to find the lamp but it was difficult to do when all his toys and games were orange too…

And even when he finally locates the magic artefact there’s still another problem: only one go per owner and the genie says that changing the world back counts as ‘A New Wish’ and is far from happy to start making changes now…

Aimed at the five-and-over age-range, this splendidly child-sized (152 x126 mm) tome is a gloriously evocative, sleekly exciting kid-friendly caper, produced in 32-page, full-colour landscape format and the kind of illustrated extravaganza kids of all ages will adore – and probably fight over…

Toon Books/Raw Junior was founded by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly to provide high-quality comics stories to entice pre-schoolers and beginning readers into a life-long relationship with graphic narrative and traditional reading.

With a select pantheon of creators they have produced many brilliant books sub-divided into First Comic for brand new readers (Level 1), (Easy-to-Read for Emerging Readers Level 2) and Chapter Books for Advanced Beginners (Level 3).

The company supports publications with on-line tools at, offering interactive audio-versions read by the authors – in a multitude of languages – and a “cartoon maker” facility which allows readers to become writers of their own adventures.
© 2008 RAW Junior, LLC. All rights reserved.

Mo and Jo Fighting Together Forever

By Jay Lynch & Dean Haspiel (Toon Books/Raw Junior)
ISBN: 978-0-9799238-5-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Superheroes at their Very Best and Most Fitting… 10/10

If you give them a chance and great material, kids love to read. Happily, these days there’s a grand renaissance of books for the young to cut their milk-teeth on, and thanks to the dedication of folk like David Fickling Books (and their wonderful comic The Phoenix) in Britain and Toon Books/Raw Junior in the USA, plenty of avenues for youngsters to grow up reading comics too…

This one even acts as a superb introduction to the weirdly compelling world of classic costumed crusading, courtesy of veteran cartoonist Jay Lynch (Bijou Funnies, Phoebe and the Pigeon People, Nard ‘n’ Pat, Mad, Wacky Packages, Garbage Pail Kids) and multi-talented illustrator Dean Haspiel (American Splendor, The Quitter, Billy Dogma, Justice League Adventures) who have concocted a rousing all-ages tale in the manner of classic Jack Cole Plastic Man and animated movie The Incredibles

The riotous romp begins in ‘Fighting…’ as Mona and Joey stop their seemingly incessant squabbling just long enough to realise mailman Mr. Mojoski is watching them. The kids are arguing over world’s greatest hero Mighty Mojo and are utterly flabbergasted when the aging public servant reveals he is that valiant champion and that he is retiring forthwith…

He gives the kids his power-bestowing costume so that one of them can take over his role one day, but they immediately start tussling again and tear it in two…

All their dreams seem over, but Mom might have a solution…

Next morning the kids get a surprise: two costumes, but they each have only half the power of Mighty Mojo…

‘Fighting Forever…’ finds Mona and Joey still scrapping – but this time with strange and awesome abilities – until a sudden crisis blots out the sun. An emergency has arisen and evil crocodilian overlord Saw-Jaw is behind it…

Individually, neither of them is able to defeat the reptile raider and they are forced to consider the inevitable: ‘Fighting Together Forever…’

Aimed at the five-and-over age-range, this splendidly child-sized (236 x1 62 mm) tome is a gloriously evocative, sleekly exciting kid-friendly caper, produced in 32-page, full-colour landscape format and the kind of illustrated extravaganza kids of all ages will adore – and probably fight over…
© 2008 RAW Junior, LLC. All rights reserved.

How Obelix Fell into the Magic Potion When He Was a Little Boy

By R. Goscinny & A. Uderzo translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Hodder Children’s Books)
ISBN: 978-0-34065-148-3

Asterix the Gaul has, since its debut, grown to become one of the most-read comics series in the world, translated into more than 100 languages. The wily little hero, his gently bombastic bosom companion Obelix and an ever-expanding and unforgettable cast of bit players have also won hearts and minds through numerous animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted toys, games and merchandising. They even inhabit their own theme park (Parc Astérix, near Paris).

More than 325 million copies of the 35 canonical Asterix books have sold worldwide over more than fifty years, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors.

One of their best and most charming collaborations isn’t a comic strip at all. Although it does star their greatest creation, How Obelix Fell into the Magic Potion When He Was a Little Boy began life as a magazine article penned by Goscinny for Pilote (#291 from 1965), with only a couple of spot-illustrations.

It languished unseen for years until 1989 when Uderzo converted and extended it into a superb, fully realised children’s picture book by crafting (with the assistance of colourist Thierry Mebarki and the design team of Crapule Productions) seven full page illustrations and six magnificent and subtly hilarious double-page spreads to augment the origin tale of the mightiest and mildest champion of ancient history.

Narrated by Asterix himself it is set when both he and his best pal were aged six and just learning how to be proper Gaulish warriors.

Obelix is fat, slow, simple and timid: a perfect target for the other boisterous boys. One day however, when the adults are all out bashing the Romans who are trying to conquer their indomitable, unconquerable village, Asterix convinces him to try a tiny taste of the Druid Getafix’s magic potion: the one which enables a tiny outpost of rural rebels to resist the full might of the empire.

Sadly, after sneaking into the wise man’s spooky house, there’s a bit of an accident…

Endearing and witty, this delightful tale is packed with the same wry humour as the cartoon albums whilst Uderzo’s sleek and dynamic comic art is suitably replaced here by gorgeous, evocative watercolour plates that mesmerise, beguile and – where appropriate – deliciously amuse…

The diminutive, doughty hero was created in 1959 by two of the art-form’s greatest proponents, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo: masters of strip narrative then at the peak of their creative powers. Although their perfect partnership ended in 1977 with the death of prolific scripter Goscinny, the creative wonderment continued with Uderzo writing and drawing the feature until his retirement in 2010.

His last work on the feature was this compilation of new and old material which was designed to signify and celebrate 50 glorious years of his co-creation before – in 2013 – Asterix and the Picts opened a fresh chapter in the annals as Jean-Yves Ferri & Didier Conrad began a much anticipated and dreaded continuation of the franchise.

A wonderful adjunct to the adventures of France’s Greatest Heroes and a brilliant introduction for younger readers to the world of comics, How Obelix Fell into the Magic Potion When He Was a Little Boy is a book every home should have.
© 1989, 2009 Éditions Albert René/Goscinny-Uderzo. English translation: © 1989 Éditions Albert René/Goscinny-Uderzo. All rights reserved.

The Moomins and the Great Flood

By Tove Jansson, translated by David McDuff (Sort Of Books)
ISBN: 978-1-90874-513-2

Tove Jansson was one of the greatest literary innovators and narrative pioneers of the 20th century: equally adept at shaping words and images to create worlds of wonder. She was especially expressive with basic components such as pen and ink, manipulating slim economical lines and patterns to realise sublime realms of fascination, whilst her deeply considered dexterity made simple forms into incredibly expressive and potent symbols.

Tove Marika Jansson was born into an artistic, intellectual and practically bohemian Swedish family in Helsinki, Finland on August 9th 1914.

Her father Viktor was a sculptor, her mother Signe Hammarsten-Jansson a successful illustrator, graphic designer and commercial artist. Tove’s brothers Lars and Per Olov became a cartoonist/writer and photographer respectively. The family and its close intellectual, eccentric circle of friends seems to have been cast rather than born, with a witty play or challenging sitcom – or immortal kids’ fantasy – as the piece they were all destined to act in.

After intensive study from 1930-1938 (University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, Stockholm, the Graphic School of the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts and L’Ecole d’Adrien Holy and L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris) she became a successful exhibiting artist all through the troubled period of the Second World War. She was immensely creative in many fields, and began her first novel as the war clouds began blighting Europe in 1939.

As she recounts in her Preface to the 1991 Scandinavian edition, all too soon it became too much and she laid it aside. Only once the war was over did she acquiesce to the urgings of friends to complete it.

In 1945 the first fantastic Moomins adventure was published: Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen (The Little Trolls and the Great Flood or latterly and more euphoniously The Moomins and the Great Flood), a whimsical epic of gentle, inclusive, accepting, understanding, bohemian, misfit trolls and their strange friends, all searching for something precious that was lost in the aftermath of a terrible calamity…

A youthful over-achiever, from 1930-1953 Tove worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for Swedish satirical magazine Garm, and achieved some measure of notoriety with an infamous political sketch of Hitler in nappies that lampooned the Appeasement policies of Chamberlain and other European leaders in the build-up to World War II. She was also an in-demand illustrator for many magazines and children’s books, and had started selling comic strips as early as 1929.

Moomintroll was her signature character. Literally.

The lumpy, lanky, gently adventurous big-eyed romantic goof began life as a spindly sigil next to her name in her political works. She called him “Snork” and claimed she had designed him in a fit of pique as a child – the ugliest thing a precocious little girl could imagine – as a response to losing an argument about Immanuel Kant with her brother.

The term “Moomin” came from her maternal uncle Einar Hammarsten who attempted to stop her pilfering food when she visited by warning her that a Moomintroll guarded the kitchen, creeping up on trespassers and breathing cold air down their necks. Eventually Snork/Moomin filled out, became timidly nicer – if a little clingy and insecure – acting as a placid therapy-tool to counteract the grimness of the post-war world.

The Moomins and the Great Flood didn’t make much of an initial impact but Jansson persisted, probably as much for her own edification as any other reason, and in 1946 her second book Kometjakten (Comet in Moominland) was published. Many critics and commentators have reckoned the terrifying tale a skilfully compelling allegory of Nuclear Armageddon.

When it and her third illustrated novel Trollkarlens hatt (Finn Family Moomintroll or occasionally The Happy Moomins from 1948) were translated into English in 1952 to great acclaim, it prompted British publishing giant Associated Press to commission a newspaper strip about her seductively sweet and sensibly surreal creations.

Jansson had no misgivings or prejudices about strip cartoons and had already adapted Comet in Moominland for Swedish/Finnish paper Ny Tid. Mumintrollet och jordens undergängMoomintrolls and the End of the World – was a popular feature so Jansson readily accepted the chance to extend her eclectic family across the world.

In 1953 The London Evening News began the first of 21 Moomin strip sagas which promptly captivated readers of all ages. Tove’s involvement in the cartoon feature ended in 1959, a casualty of its own success and a punishing publication schedule. So great was the strain that towards the end she had recruited her brother Lars to help. He took over, continuing the feature until its end in 1975, captivating generations of children and adults alike and pushing Jansson’s gentle gang to the forefront of literary universes…

Eventually after a succession of nine novels, five picture books and that sublime strip, Tove returned to painting, writing and her other creative pursuits, generating plays, murals, public art, stage designs, costumes for dramas and ballets, a Moomin opera as well as thirteen books and short-story collections strictly for grown-ups.

Tove Jansson died on June 27th 2001 and her awards are too numerous to mention, but consider this: how many modern artists – let alone comics creators – get their faces on the national currency?

Her Moomin comic strips have long been available in Scandinavian volumes and the discerning folk at Drawn & Quarterly have translated these into English for your – and especially my – sheer delight and delectation.

The Moomins and the Great Flood – being slightly more sombre than the later tales – was out of print for years in Europe (until the aforementioned 1991 edition) and never translated into English at all until 2005 – published by Schildts of Finland for the 60th anniversary of the series.

This resplendent hardback edition hails from 2012, published in Britain by Sort Of Books and a charmingly moving little thing it is. Not strictly a comic strip or a graphic novel, but rather a beautifully illustrated picture book, unafraid to be allegorical or scary or sad yet closing with a message of joy and hope and reconciliation…

It begins as capable Moominmamma and her nervous little son enter the deepest part of the great Forest one day at the end of August. They are tired and hungry and have been searching for the longest time for Moominpappa. The big gallant fool went off adventuring with the crazy wandering Hattifatteners and they haven’t seen him for years…

Soon they are joined by a nervous Little Creature and after escaping a Great Serpent meet a blue haired girl named Tulippa who used to live in a flower…

Travelling together they meet an old gentleman who lives in a tree which contains a huge park full of sweets and treats, traverse a terrific abyss in a railway cart and narrowly escape an ant-lion.

Persevering the hopeful party continue their wandering search until they meet a band of Hattifatteners and join them on their boat just as the skies begin to darken and a vast deluge begins…

The tumultuous voyage search takes them through a world turned upside down by calamity but eventually leads to a joyous reunion after all the assorted and individualistic creatures affected by disaster pull together to survive the inundation and its effects…

Augmented with 14 stunning sepia-wash illustrations and 34 spot-illos in various styles of pen and ink scattered like cartoon confetti throughout the confection, this is a magical lost masterpiece for the young, laced with the unfettered imagination, keen observation and mature reflection which enhances and elevates only the greatest kid’s stories into classics of literature. Charming, genteel, amazingly imaginative and emotionally intense, this is a masterpiece of fantasy no one could possibly resist…
Text and illustrations © Tove Jansson 1945, 1991. English translation © David McDuff 2012.

Perfect Nonsense: the Chaotic Comics and Goofy Games of George Carlson

By George Carlson, edited by Daniel F. Yezbick & Rick Marschall (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-508-2

The art and calling of mesmerising children is a rare one, but the masters of such an imaginative discipline – whether through words or pictures – have generally become household names.

Lewis Carroll (although that’s really two people, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson & Sir John Tenniel), Edward Lear, J.M. Barrie, L. Frank Baum, Enid Blyton, Maurice Sendak, Kenneth Graham, Arthur Rackham and their ilk, or cartoon-oriented craftsmen such as Winsor McCay, Sheldon Mayer, Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, George Herriman, Elzie Segar, S.J. Perelman, Alfred Bestall, Crockett Tubbs, Milt Gross, Carl Barks, Bill Holman and others have all garnered some measure of undying fame for their sublime cannons of entertainment, but apparently these days, nobody knows George Carlson.

Carlson was both a unique and prolific, surreally absurdist, sublimely stylised magician of children’s entertainments and a diligent commercial artist, tireless, dedicated educator and print illustrator and designer.

He absolutely loved games and puzzles and was besotted with all aspects of print media.

A son of Swedish immigrants, he plied his trade(s) from New York and Connecticut between 1903 to 1962, producing everything from editorial cartoons, book jackets (including famously the iconic first edition of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind), magazine illustration, typographical design, games, sheet-music, utterly unique advertising materials, books, pamphlets and so much more.

And comics: some of the most original, eccentric and captivating comics for youngsters America or the world has ever seen…

This superb and colossal compendium, the brainchild and magnum opus of extreme fan Daniel Yezbick, is the result of 15 years toil and superbly details every aspect of the lost master’s life, stuffed to overflowing with intimate photos, wonderful anecdotes and page after page of glorious, enchanting stories, poems, puzzles and pictures that still have the power to take your breath away, no matter how old you are.

This calculated resurrection of a lost giant begins with ‘Preface: Great Gran’pa Gookel’ by Carlson’s descendent Allison Currie, and an effulgent Introduction’ by author, critic, historian and cartoonist R.C. Harvey who kindles the lost days in ‘A Very Admiring and Well-Plumbed Apostrophe to George Carlson, Cartooning Genius’, whilst Yezbick’s fulsome Foreword declares ‘At Long Last, the Carnival’s Come Back’

Firstly Yezbick takes us through the great man’s multi-faceted career, beginning with ‘The Jolly Books of the Puzzling Private’ describing early works and the artist’s two decades writing, illustrating, designing and creating engaging and educational games and puzzles for iconic and influential children’s pulp magazine John Martin’s Book. Also heavily featured is Carlson’s first great creation Peter Puzzlemaker, whose visual and verbal conundrums fascinated and expanded the minds of generations of kids.

The tireless scribbler also ghosted Gene Ahern’s classic newspaper strip Reg’lar Fellers for years and was engaged during WWI as an army cartographer.

‘The Whimsical Wizard of Fairfield, Connecticut: Family Life and Commercial Art in the 1920s and 1930s’ details his most productive period, not just as a consummate long-distance entertainer of kids, but in local and publishing national arenas.

Whilst addressing Carlson’s lifelong fascination with transport – especially his astounding illustrations of ships and trains – ‘Gone With the Wiggily: Flirting with Fame in the 1930s and 1940s’ covers the Mitchell cover creation and other book jackets as well as Carlson’s far more lasting and influential contributions to children’s literature.

Most important of these are his superb illustrations for Howard R. Garis’ ubiquitous and bucolic tales of venerable rabbit grandfather figure Uncle Wiggily and the artist’s wholly originated series of Puzzles, Fun Things to Do, Play and Colouring books, as well as a succession of “How to” books  revealing the secrets of drawing and creating your own cartoons.

The origin of his short but incredible funnybook career is covered in ‘The Road to Pretzleburg: George Carlson and Self-Destructing Comic Book Narrative’ and the latter disappointing years of changing public tastes in ‘Slouching Towards Fumbleland: The Restoration of the Whifflesnort’ which prompted his just-too-soon abortive creation of graphic novels (in 1962) with the never published Alec in Fumbleland and the artist’s immortalisation as the creator of a series of images locked in a time capsule that won’t be opened until 8113AD…

The major portion of this sturdy compendium is taken up with hundreds of astounding reproductions of Carlson’s vast and varied output, beginning with ‘Early Works and Illustrations’ including scenes from many classical stories such as Icarus, Neptune and Amphitrite, Aesop’s Fables, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Tom Sawyer and full colour cover and plates for such books as The Magic Stone, Uncle Wiggily, The Prince Without a Country and more…

Also included are examples of ‘Adult and Genre Works’ such as Broncho Apache, Death on the Prairie and Scouting on the Mystery Trail

‘Pulps, Poems and Pixies: John Martin’s Books’ offers a wealth of images and designs from Carlson’s 20 year tenure as contributing editor on America’s premiere pulp publication for children.

A master of what we now call paper and print technologies with the budget and freedom to go wild, he concocted covers, frontispieces, book plates, Holiday editions, graphically integrated poem pages, astounding layouts, games pages, riddles, nonsense word glossaries, animal alphabets and so many other ways to educationally enthral, engage and stretch growing minds…

The artist was also a brilliant composer of clever, witty limericks, odes, riddles, gags and brainteasers: a advocate and devotee of whacky word play in the manner of Lear and Carroll, and ‘Carlson’s School of Nonsense’ catalogues many of his most impressive cartoon-garnished confections whilst ‘Jolly Books’ displays his creations and tales for premium pamphlets (a forerunner of comicbooks) commissioned as give-aways by department stores, cxall dutifully crafted and packaged by the John Martin team.

As the magazine refused to carry straight advertising – feeling it was an abuse and betrayal of their young readers’ trust – Carlson and brilliant co-editor Helen Waldo devised a sponsorship method which name-checked at one remove selected backers and commercial interests through ingenious story puzzle pages, rebuses, acronyms and acrostics…

Once upon a time paper and printing were the internet: a nigh-inexhaustible, readily available resource which could provide stories, games and puzzles, information and diversions which only required a creator’s imagination and ingenuity.

There was nobody more skilled, adept or inspired than Carlson, whose life-long fascination with language, crosswords, puns, riddles, rebuses, maths, wordplay and graphic invention seemingly occupied every non-working, waking moment.

He also knew music (his wife Gertrude was a professional pianist and gave lessons from their home) and here ‘Songs, Games and Other Pastimes’ displays his charming amalgamations of graphics and terpsichorean instruction as well as his science-based features, articles and books, whilst ‘Tutorial Cartooning and Art Instruction’ offers concrete examples of the artist’s many years of publishing tracts and tomes intended to teach young and old alike the fundamentals of narrative art.

‘Trains and Transportation’ reveals in spectacular detail Carlson’s fascination with engineering, locomotives and all aspects of shipping – including the revolutionary and mindboggling book Queen Mary Comparisons – after which ‘Portraits, Presidents and Personalities’ displays a selection of his superb commemorative images, whilst ‘Adventures in Advertising’ reveals his unbelievable versatility in putting across ideas and selling, including many examples of the aforementioned John Martin stealth ads plus a plethora of delightful make-them-yourself Premiums he designed for youngsters.

‘Original Art, Lost Works, and Forgotten Frolics’ explore tantalising might-have-beens and unearthed treasures before the groundbreaking kids comics are highlighted in ‘Laughter, Puns, and Speed’.

Subtitled ‘The Whifflesnorting Thrills of George Carlson’s Eastern Color Comics’, a brief essay reveals the history of the illustrator’s short foray into comicbooks and the creation of anthology Jingle-Jangle Comics, which launched in February 1942 (running until 1949) and which headlined two features exclusively written and drawn by Carlson.

‘The Pie-Faced Prince of Old Pretzleburg’ was a manic, pun-filled procession of insane and wholesome nonsense which related the fast and frantic screwball adventures of royal mooncalf Prince Dimwitri and his inamorata Princess Panetella Murphy, and the too short collection of complete capers commences here with the fast, frenetic debut from #1, in which he saved the King’s breakfast pretzel from the insidious Green Witch.

Also included are escapades from issues #11, #15, #16, #20, #35, #36 and #41, absurdist adventures in rumbling tumbling happily tumultuous word and picture tales involving jet-powered kites, assorted bandits, scurrilous scarecrows, stolen violins, fabulous beasts, living jet-mobiles, talking animals, baking, belligerent unicorns and more.

Carlson brought a deliciously skewed viewpoint to the still-evolving syllabary of comics: there are hilariously punny labels and signs everywhere and in some shots weary birds rest on free-floating word balloons…

Without doubt, however, Carlson reserved his greatest flights of fancy for the inventive fractured fairy stories that comprised the eponymous ‘Jingle Jangle Tales’ – one-off fables starring peculiarly reinvented standbys like princesses and knights, interacting with astonishing animals and far-from-inanimate objects all imbued with a bravura lust for life and laughs.

Included here are ‘The Moon-Struck Unicorn and the Worn-Out Shadow’ from #13, ‘The Straight-Shooting Princess and the Filigree Pond-Lily’ (#22), ‘The Musical Whifflesnort and the Red-Hot Music Roll’ (#23), ‘The Rocketeering Doodlebug and the Self-Winding Horsefly’ (#25), extraordinarily mirthful mystical melanges augmented by a brace of outrageously wry spoofs of American classics ‘Skip van Wrinkle, the High-Hatted Hunter’ from #28 and the impossibly raucous and breathtaking lunacy of ‘Sleepy Yollow, the Bedless Norseman’ (#31).

Harlan Ellison correctly dubbed Carlson’s sublimely inviting whimsy for the very young as “Comics of the Absurd” and these cartoon capers are urgently in need of their own complete and comprehensive collection – preferably in a lush and lavish full colour hardback archive edition…’

If you have an abiding love of creative fantasy and access to beginning reading-age children (boy, that came out creepier than I imagined!), you simply must get this terrific tome and open their eyes to wonderment, enlightenment, entertainment and education in this timelessly addictively accessible chronicle.

Buy it now, and it will be this year’s best Christmas present ever…
Perfect Nonsense © 2013 Fantagraphics Books. All images and articles © their respective creators or owners. All rights reserved.

The Fires of Pele

By Hollace and Paul Davids & Sergio Aragonés, assisted by Lee Mishkin, with SFX by M.D. Wolf (Paul Davids Productions/Pictorial Legends)
ISBN: 978-0-93903-100-9

Here’s an intriguing and thoroughly fabulous photo-novel oddity from the 1980s – or as it should be known, the days before Photoshop™ – that still holds the power to enchant and delight even in an era where recordings of fan-favourite shows can be bought, bartered or downloaded at the click of a mouse.

For all you youngsters: photo-novels were paperback adaptations of movies or episodes of popular TV shows which used text and film-stills instead of drawn art to reproduce the story. Inexplicably popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s, they fell from favour with the rise of video, and latterly, laser-discs, DVD and other methods of actually owning the full-sensorium original material.

Cinema releases included Alien, Grease, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the 1978 Lord of the Rings and many others whilst TV editions included Dr. Who, The Incredible Hulk and an even dozen episodes of the Original Star Trek.

A few photo-novels such as Star Wars and Charlie’s Angels are still produced these days.

At the end of 1986 husband and wife screen writers Hollace and Paul Davids produced this excessively impressive and clever faux-fable blending the mythology of Hawaii and the Sandwich Islands with the peripatetic but well-documented wanderings of reporter-at-large Samuel Langhorne Clemens AKA Mark Twain.

An oversized 247x305mm, glossy 56 page modern fairytale, the illustrations here are original full-colour special effects cinematic plates (no cheap computer graphics packages or Photoshop, remember?) with a cast of actors creating the scenes in the manner of Fumetti/photo picture stories, further enhanced with designs and painted illustrations by Sergio Aragonés and Lee Mishkin – and the pen and ink maestro also provides a wealth of merry monochrome “marginals” of the Great Raconteur himself…

The story is beguilingly simple: whilst reporting on the Sandwich Islands for his employers the Sacramento Union newspaper in 1866, the adventuresome author encountered a race of magical Polynesian pixies known as Melehulas and was drawn into a battle between bold heroes and spiteful gods…

The great Prince Lakekua was to wed the foundling princess Analike, but the comely warrior had caught the eye of dreadful Pele, Goddess of Fire, Lightning, Wind and Volcanoes. After first trying unsuccessfully to seduce and compel the doughty warrior, Pele sent her malign kin, such as The Shark God, Moho the steam god and Earth-giant Kona to imprison the brave girl beyond the reach of man and destroy all who tried to find her.

Luckily for Lakekua, his trusty young friend Kakipoto knew such benevolent spirit creatures as the Menehulas, bestial master craftsman Kakamora and a host of other advantageous allies such as a fast-thinking, smooth talking visiting white traveller from distant shores…

Crammed with exotic scenarios, lush, incredible scenery, mighty battles, true love, talking fish, shape-shifting wizards, Demon Owls, Lizard-Ladies and the unjust wrath of the gods this is a marvellous romp in the grand Ray Harryhausen Bank Holiday movie manner and a splendid yarn long overdue for a modern revisitation.

Until then however, the original large slim tome is still readily available should you desperately need to explore the dark side of Paradise…
© 1986 Hollace & Paul Davids. All right reserved. Menehulas Photos © 1985 The Menehunes Group. All other photos © 1983 Paul Davids and Mark Wolf.